Burgas and Nessebar

It’s spring vacation, and Bulgaria’s third wave of COVID is loosening its grip. People are out, restaurants are open, and there is a country lying around us ready to be explored. It’s time to see the Black Sea! And listen to new playlists, eat Pringles, and be a family someplace other than our living room!

We started by driving out to the coast. Bulgaria is covered in small farms and rolling fields of flowers, so the drive was a pretty one. We drove past villages, hiking trails and monasteries, and before long saw our first Huge Soviet Concrete Monolith. You never know when those might pop up in this part of the world. It’s hard to miss them because they’re so…. visible.

There were some complaints from the back seat as we drove around trying to find it, but I think Jake and Eli will be grateful one day that we dragged them to see this giant waving flag of concrete. Giant soldiers holding giant bayonets looked on with watchful eyes as Mike and the boys raced to the top.

And now, we can say we’ve been there.

Our next stop was Burgas, a port city with charming pedestrian streets and gardens overlooking the coastline. It is a lovely place! The tree-lined sidewalks and kiosks selling plastic pinwheels reminded me of other small cities in eastern europe, where you can always find ice cream or a bowl of buttered corn.

The architecture and sidewalks crumble in places, but the history mixes with a modern gaze that makes Burgas feel very much alive. Streets are crowded with cafes and people having drinks, and craft brews and burgers are everywhere, along with shops selling shoes and antiques. The bakeries are loaded with easter bread at this time of year, and we stumbled onto a farmer’s market selling cheese and homemade wine. I bought a plastic 2 liter bottle of Merlot because I couldn’t help it.

After lunch outside we took a walk along the boardwalk, and remembered the time we considered taking the ferry across the Black Sea from Yalta to Georgia, in order to get our car to Azerbaijan. Jake and Eli were three years old, and in hindsight, we feel very proud of ourselves for being smart enough not to do that.

A little further up the coast is Nessebar, a medieval UNESCO heritage town that goes all the way back to the Bronze Age. There are stone churches from the Middle Ages and remnants of the Byzantines, all surrounded by rocky beaches and fishing boats. In the evening we walked over the bridge to the island as the sun was setting it aglow.

Our hotel room had a beautiful view where we watched the rolling tide from the windows on all sides. I don’t always love the beach because there is constant music playing and sand always gets everywhere (how does it get in the bed?), but this time, I didn’t mind. The pool was quiet and the staff were nice, and the breakfast buffet was a great place for cappuccino and people-watching. Romanians and Russians joined us in the dining room with huge piles of croissants, and I noticed that everyone loves sausage, along with mushrooms and thick slices of feta cheese.

Since it’s only May, we had most of the island and the beach to ourselves. The water was a little too cold for me but the boys loved it!

Restaurants were mostly empty too, so it was easy to find dinner outside on a pretty terrace overlooking the water. Street lamps and grapevines twisted over the tables, and grizzled chefs turned kebabs and fresh fish on the outdoor grill. I know it’s immature to make fun of translations, but this one was funny!

Unsure of the “rowing” or grilled kinds of meat, we ordered a huge seafood platter with french fries, and Eli ordered a whole sea bass. It still amazes me that both the boys can plow through an entire fish, including the head, without thinking it’s weird.

After dinner the waiter brought us little shots that tasted like licorice, as the boys sipped Coke and we listened to Rhythm is a Dancer playing on the radio. it’s funny that Jake and Eli know all the words to these 80’s songs because the drivers play them on the school bus.

One afternoon we went out in search of Mud Baths. In the off-season, there are no crowds to follow so it’s hard to tell if you’re in the right place, but Mike courageously waded in, even though the area seemed kind of abandoned and I was mildly worried about disease. There was mud though! And wow, it really stinks!

When the sun went down, we wandered the streets of the old town in search of cake. There is an Italian flair to the cafes which I love, a ritual of celebrating small, beautiful things that don’t last forever. A well-rounded life is such a balance, of things that deserve the investment of lifetimes (like stone churches), and things that only exist for a moment (like cake).

It can be overwhelming to think that lifetimes of waves have broken on these shores, then ebbed and gently disappeared, whether we noticed them or not.

Like these quiet moments, of morning walks for coffee and burying our kids in the sand, and wading out in the water just to see how far we can go, these small, beautiful rituals have yet to gently disappear, and I’d rather notice them than not.